Peace, love and joy. How does anyone find them in their own life? All I can tell you is how my journey in life made me aware of each.

Six years ago, I would have told you it's not possible. I came home and opened the garage door to find that my beautiful, 22-year old daughter had hanged herself. For more than two years, Natalie struggled with a disease that ultimately took her life. She fought a valiant battle. As a mother, there's nothing worse than not being able to take away the pain your child is experiencing. And here I was, holding her head on my lap, stroking her hair, coming to the realization that I can't change this. As much as I may want to, there is nothing I can do to reverse this. There is no second chance.

As the mother of two, my children mean the world to me. From times spent together on the baseball diamond, to helping with schoolwork, to exploring new places together, we were a family. Certainly we had our moments. That's being human. Deep down in our bones, we each know the vast love for one another. A few months after Natalie's death, my son, Javair, and I were talking, no, arguing. The strain on our relationship was plainly palpable. In that moment I told him I see how this experience breaks families apart and that's not what I want for us. We sat quietly for some minutes. That's not what he wanted either.

Peace came to my daughter when her life ended. Peace came to me when I accepted my daughter's death. Peace comes to my family when we openly and honestly talk, remembering Natalie for who she was as a human being, not the circumstances surrounding her death. Peace is a daily practice.

At Natalie's wake, the line of people went outside and around the block. My family was concerned for me. I knew I needed to hug each and every individual that was there. I did just that. In the months afterward, I experimented with different classes on body awareness. From sitting meditation, to massage, to riding a stationary bike at the YMCA, I began taking exquisite care of me. One morning in a Feldenkrais class, as I stretched upward, I literally felt my entire heart open up to the world. I began noticing things newly and they were vibrant. At times along the walking trail, I felt at one with the universe. My community and everything surrounding me support me each and every day. Love is a daily practice.

Joy? How could I have joy in my life? I mean my daughter died. My daughter died by suicide. I couldn't imagine joy being in my life whatsoever. Guess what? It is here in my life. It's present in my daily activities because I choose joy. I never thought about that until a seminar leader brought it to the attention of the group. I listened intently. Having joy in my life is accepting what is and what is not. Embracing what it and what is not. And bravely moving forward. I am living that as I bring awareness to mental health conditions. I am living that as I recognize and acknowledge the greatness in others. Imagine a world where each and every human being is fully aware of the difference they make in the universe. Joy is a daily practice.

By Marie Dudek


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